Unlike the stable environment of today, most popes of the first millennium only lasted a few years. Between politics, plague and poisoning, the life of a pope was not an easy one.
Deodatus (or Deusdedit), whose name means God has given, was born in Rome, the son of a subdeacon named Stephen, right around 570 AD.
As mentioned earlier in this series, the Dark Ages, as the late first millennium was called, was a time of invasion by Goths, Vandals and pagan barbarians. No one was safe. No one was in a position to protect. The Byzantine Empire, centered in Constantinople, technically controlled most of southern Europe. But the emperor had his hands tied trying to defend against the Persians and others from the East. An exarch, situated at Ravenna (northern Italy) was the one who was to control the West. But the exarchs were replaced every other year so that they would not grow partisan towards the locals. The local soldiers and officers were the ones really running things. The division in loyalties between locals and Byzantine officials was gradually becoming a problem.
During all this, Deodatus grew up, took orders 15 October 590 and was appointed a cardinal by Pope St. Gregory 1, who died in 604. Thus, Deodatus had been a priest for some time before he was consecrated, 19 October 615.
He became the first priest, not a monk, to be elected since John II in 533, over 80 years. Not being a monk was setting a precedent, since
Gregory and Boniface IV had preferred monks to take all the administrative offices. Deodatus continued this precedent by recalling those secular priests who had lost their positions. He also ordained 14 priests in Rome, the first ordinations since Pope Gregory.
Politics worked their way into his papacy. The Lombards and the Byzantine exarch were fighting again. There were rebellions in northern Italy, where the exarch, John, and his officials were assassinated. Then there were rebellions in Naples. The Lombards tried to suppress the priests in those areas. Eleutherius, the new exarch, came to Italy from Constantinople and executed the murderers of John. He then put down the revolutionaries in Naples. Deodatus remained loyal to the East.
Fallout from political rebellions and war include mass movements of people trying to get out of the way. Lombards fought in the north, and people moved to the south. This meant that, even after years of fighting, there were still many displaced people in Rome and environs who had nothing. Deodatus worked for the poor, feeding, clothing, encouraging.
In a time where communications was difficult and time consuming, Deodatus began using lead seals (bullae) on papal documents to prove that they were from him. This is where “papal bull” got its name. There is one preserved seal from his reign. On the obverse is a representation of the Good Shepherd in the midst of His sheep, with the letters Alpha and Omega underneath. The reverse has the inscription “Deusdedit Papae”.
In August, 618, there was a tremendous earthquake in Rome, followed, within months by a plague of leprosy. Deodatus worked tirelessly for the poor and sick during the disaster, only to fall ill and die on 8 November of that year. That date is remembered as his feast day.
It would be more than a year before another pope was chosen.